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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Brown Thrasher

Toxostoma rufum ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: MIMIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

It can be tricky to glimpse a Brown Thrasher in a tangled mass of shrubbery, and once you do you may wonder how such a boldly patterned, gangly bird could stay so hidden. Brown Thrashers wear a somewhat severe expression thanks to their heavy, slightly downcurved bill and staring yellow eyes, and they are the only thrasher species east of Texas. Brown Thrashers are exuberant singers, with one of the largest repertoires of any North American songbird.

Jane Kim Mural
Merlin Bird ID app

Keys to identification Help

Thrushlike
Thrushlike
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Brown Thrashers are fairly large, slender songbirds with long proportions—the legs are long and sturdy, and the bill is long and slightly downcurved. The tail is long, too, and often cocked upward in the manner of wrens.

  • Color Pattern

    Brown Thrashers are foxy brown birds with heavy, dark streaking on their whitish underparts. The face is gray-brown and the wings show two black-and-white wingbars. They have bright-yellow eyes.

  • Behavior

    Brown Thrashers skulk in shrubby tangles or forage on the ground below dense cover. They’re most obvious when they sing their loud songs from shrubs and treetops. The song is a complex string of many musical phrases (many copied from other birds’ songs, with each phrase typically sung twice before moving on). They also make a distinctive, harsh tsuck note.

  • Habitat

    Scrubby fields, dense regenerating woods, and forest edges are the primary habitats of Brown Thrashers. They rarely venture far from thick undergrowth into which they can easily retreat.

Range Map Help

Brown Thrasher Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Brown Thrasher

    Adult
    • Large, slender-bodied songbird
    • Long tail
    • Bright rufous above, densely streaked below
    • Glaring yellow/orange eyes
    • © Andy Jordan, High Island, Texas, April 2011
  • Adult

    Brown Thrasher

    Adult
    • Elongated body with long tail
    • Rufous above with white wing-bars
    • Heavily streaked below
    • © Bill Thompson, Hadley, Massachusetts, June 2012
  • Adult

    Brown Thrasher

    Adult
    • Usually stays hidden within thick vegetation
    • Slender, elongated body shape
    • Bright rufous above with two white wing-bars
    • Glowing yellow eyes
    • © Dave Wendelken, Massanetta Springs, Virginia, April 2012
  • Adult

    Brown Thrasher

    Adult
    • Frequently feeds on or near ground
    • Large and elongated songbird
    • Rufous above, heavily streaked below
    • Two white wing-bars
    • © Keith Alderman, Briggsdale, Colorado, October 2010
  • Adult

    Brown Thrasher

    Adult
    • Elongated body with long tail
    • Densely-streaked underparts
    • Bright rufous above
    • Glaring yellow eyes
    • © Rockytopk9, Tennessee, January 2012

Similar Species

  • Adult

    Wood Thrush

    Adult
    • Stockier and more "pot-bellied" than Brown Thrasher
    • Large, dark eyes
    • Shorter bill and tail
    • Spotted, not streaked underparts
    • © Kelly Azar, Castle County, Delaware, May 2012
  • Adult

    Long-billed Thrasher

    Adult
    • Duller brown above with grayer face
    • Darker, more sharply-curved bill
    • Darker streaks, especially on sides of breast
    • © Carlos Escamilla, Tamaulipas, Mexico, March 2011

Similar Species

Long-billed Thrashers occur only in south Texas and eastern Mexico. Where they overlap with wintering Brown Thrashers, Long-billed Thrashers are more gray-brown than rusty brown. The streaks on their chest and belly are blacker, and the face is grayer. Wood Thrushes have a similar color pattern, but they are smaller, with a shorter bill and tail. Wood Thrushes have a white eyering, spotted instead of streaked underparts, and plain, unbarred wings. Given just a short glimpse in dim light, female Northern Cardinals can show just enough reddish to approximate the color of a Brown Thrasher, but cardinals have shorter tails, peaked heads, thicker bills, and don’t show white underparts.

Regional Differences

Brown Thrashers from the western Great Plains are slightly larger and paler than those breeding farther east.

Backyard Tips

Brown Thrashers may come to feeders on or near the ground with dense cover close by. You can also attract them by planting shrubs that produce berries.

Find This Bird

To find Brown Thrashers, keep your eyes and ears alert around tangled thickets, hedgerows or forest edges in central and eastern North America. Brown Thrashers are secretive, and hard to spot in their favorite spots under dense vegetation, but they can make a lot of noise as they rummage through the leaf litter. During spring and early summer, males climb higher to sing from exposed perches. Listen for a song with a pattern of a Northern Mockingbird, but with phrases repeated only in pairs rather than in triplets.